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Bayshore beautiful

'Forgotten patriot' honored in ceremony

A recent historic survey uncovers a little-known fact: The author of the Pledge of Allegiance once lived in South Tampa.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2003


The feisty idealist who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance didn't live in Tampa long.

But Tampa is claiming him anyway.

City officials and historic preservation buffs honored Francis Bellamy on Feb. 28, at the Wallcraft Avenue house where he once lived.

They gave speeches, unveiled a plaque and, of course, recited the pledge -- though it wasn't Bellamy's original version.

"It's important that we don't erase history, that we learn from it," Mayor Dick Greco told more than 50 people who gathered in what used to be Bellamy's front yard.

A New York native, Bellamy was a longtime Baptist preacher and educator who later became publicity director for Tampa Electric Co. He wrote the pledge in 1892. He lived in Tampa from 1924 until his death in 1931.

City officials didn't know the specifics of Bellamy's Tampa connection until a recent historic survey of the Bayshore area turned up his name and old address. The two-story, Mediterranean-style house is now owned by Richard and Beth Hornstrom.

"A forgotten patriot" is how one of Friday's speakers, Bettie Nelson, with the Florida Royal Palm chapter of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America, described Bellamy.

In a phone interview, Maryland historian John Baer slung this term: "Independent-minded cuss."

Bellamy was pressured to leave his church after preaching sermons like "Jesus the Socialist."

And Baer, who has self-published a book about Bellamy, said the curmudgeonly New Englander quit attending church altogether after moving to Florida; he couldn't stand the racism he found between the pulpit and pews.

The pledge was written when Bellamy was a top official in the National Education Association, preparing schools for the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America.

He did not use the term "under God." Congress added that in 1954.

Bellamy would have flipped, his descendants say. He didn't like anybody tinkering with his carefully chosen words. And he believed church and state shouldn't mix.

"He was so for the separation of church and state that he was against parochial schools," his niece, Sally Wright, told a newspaper last year. "He thought education should be a state matter."

Last year, a federal court in California banned teacher-led recitation of the pledge in public schools, ruling that it violated the Constitution's ban on official religion. An appeals court upheld the ruling Feb. 28.

The matter may go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week's recitation at the Bellamy ceremony was led by the Hornstroms' daughter, Meghan, a student at Tampa Prep. The crowd stuck to the contemporary version.

Contrarian though he was, Bellamy is credited with a big heart.

According to a city proclamation read at the ceremony, a neighbor raising money for a new organ at Bayshore Methodist Church asked him for advice.

Bellamy instead offered a check, paying for the organ himself.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com .

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